Rome (Agenzia Fides) - Benin, where the Holy Father Benedict XVI will make his apostolic 22nd journey, from18 to 20 November, on the occasion of the signing and publication of the Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, it is a country in West Africa until 1975 known as Dahomey. The Country covers an area of 112,620 sq.km. and a population of 9.3 million inhabitants (updated to 2009, World Bank sources). The political capital of Benin is Porto Novo, but the commercial capital is Cotonou. The Republic of Benin borders to the north by Burkina Faso and Niger, to the east by Nigeria, on the west by Togo, and south by the Gulf of Guinea.
It is a former French colony, independent since 1 August 1960, with the name the Republic of Dahomey. In 1972 a coup led by Mathieu Kérékou, brings to power a military junta that comes close to Marxism. The Country is renamed the People's Republic of Benin in 1975 and then the Republic of Benin in 1990. In December of that year a new Constitution was approved that officially ended the 17 years of military-Marxist. President Kérékou, under the pressure of internal democratic requests and that of the international financial institutions, in February 1990 was in fact forced to a national conference (called the "Conference of the living forces of the nation"), the first of its kind in Africa, which had brought the country to democracy.
In 1991 Kérékou was defeated in the presidential election by Nicéphore Soglo, then returned to power with the election held in 1996. In 2001, Kérékou won back the presidential election, after other candidates had withdrawn. In 2006, Boni Yayi was elected Head of State on the ballot. Both Kérékou (at the time was 72 years old) and the former President Soglo did not present themselves because they had reached the age limit established by the Constitution.
Regarding the economy, 60% of the population is employed in agriculture. The main crops are cassava, beans, sweet potatoes, sorghum, maize, millet, rice and in particular cotton, which is the main source of foreign currency in the country and provides livelihood for 2 million people.
In Benin, some 40 ethnic groups live together, the largest of which is the Fon, which identifies 50% of the population. Other smaller groups are the Yoruba, the Somba, the Beriba. Each of them has its own dialect. The official language is French, spoken primarily in the cities.
The Catholic Church. In Benin, there are 10 ecclesiastical circumscriptions, 338 parishes and 801 pastoral centers, with 11 Bishops, 811 priests, 1,386 men and women religious, 30 lay members of secular Institutes and 11,251 catechists. The minor seminarians are 308 and the major seminarians are 497.
A total of 57,771 students attend 234 Catholic education centers, from kindergartens to universities. Among other institutions belonging to the Church or run by priests or religious in Benin, are 12 hospitals, 64 clinics, 3 leper centers, 7 homes for the elderly or disabled, 41 orphanages and nurseries, 3 family counseling centers and other pro- life centers, and 3 other institutions. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 16/11/2011)